THE WIND CANNOT READ—the title to this 1958 star-crossed romance comes from an unattributed Japanese poem. “Though on the sign it is written: ‘Don’t pluck these blossoms’–it is useless against the wind, which cannot read” is a touching metaphor for how fate can blow us heart-led humans into worlds of wonder and hurt. The sentiment was later inscribed upon the tombstone of British author Richard Mason, who wrote the book the screenplay was taken from, based on his own WW2 experiences. Unaccredited in the film is that David Lean wrote much of the screenplay in collaboration with Mason, as he was keen on directing it. Lean’s plans were scotched and he then plunged into The Bridge On The River Kwai. Ralph Thomas took over directing and cast popular Brit box-office star Dirk Bogarde in the lead. Lean had wanted Kenneth More, who was also a draw at the time.
Alas, it’s too bad (oddly fitting, considering the poem) that the intriguing project ended in the wrong hands, as Mason’s story had the makings of a hit on the order of Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing. Recuperating from barely escaping Burma ahead of the Japanese, British officer ‘Quinn’/Mason (Bogarde) is ‘volunteered’ to learn Japanese in order to interrogate prisoners. At the school in India, his instructor is the exiled ‘Sabbi'(Yoko Tani) and as fate (or the illiterate wind in this case) would have it, the two fall in love. National conflict of interest (as in, bombs) casts shadows over the couple’s liaison.
Thomas was a journeyman director, competent but uninspired, without the deft touch something like this called for.* Bogarde was an interesting person and a good actor, but his charm as a romantic lead escapes me. Playing it cutting and imperious (King And Country, A Bridge To Far) or decadent (The Damned,The Night Porter) and he convinces, but setting hearts aflutter? Please. Kenneth More would have been a better choice (he called turning down the role “the greatest mistake I ever made professionally”). More would still have had to goose some life into Yoko Tani, who is limited and stiff, and the supporting cast are lightweight.**
The main reason to watch is for the location filming in India, with views of sites in Delhi and a lovingly captured side-trip to Agra and the Taj Mahal. Easily the highlight of the film, the scenes shot at the Taj start around the 48-minute mark, if you want to cut to the chase.
Richard Mason’s story had potential but this handling is weak. Two years later a much bigger hit came of Mason’s most successful book, also taken from his personal adventures, The World Of Suzie Wong. Star-crossed East-West love again, but with William Holden and Nancy Kwan, and done to a tee.
115 minutes, with Ronald Lewis, John Fraser, Anthony Bushell, Marne Maitland, Michael Medwin and Donald Pleasence.
* Thomas directed 42 features, including dozens produced by his wife, Betty Box. A slew of these featured Bogarde, in the ‘Doctor’ series of comedies (Doctor At Sea, etc.) that were big hits in Britain.
** Alternating between acting and ‘exotic dancing’, Tani was scooped for this part when Betty Box saw her perform in the Crazy Horse Saloon, a famous Paris strip-club. What that kind of movement had to do with convincingly teaching Japanese to interpreters may only be surmised. Can the wind read braille?